Letter to Walton County Economic Development Alliance
July 27, 2010
Walton County Economic Development Alliance
Re: Renewable, Clean and New Energy Economy Opportunities for
Walton County and Region
Dear Sir or Madam:
There is a burgeoning new economy growing in this Country and around the World that provides a perfect opportunity for Walton County and the surrounding region to develop jobs and new business. On June 28, I attended the Florida Clean Energy Congress held in the Capital (Tallahassee) House Chambers. The Clean Energy Congress (“CEC”) was enlightening, invigorating and energizing (no pun intended). The CEC galvanized, in my mind, what I had already learned, studied and been made aware of: That we have the technology right now to turn to clean and renewable energy sources to create jobs, enhance our economy and make for a better and cleaner World. There is nothing but an upside to changing the paradigm from dependence on fossil fuels to the ever growing clean and green energy industry. While we are working for a cleaner World, providing for less dependence on fossil fuels and foreign imports and making our Country and State more self sufficient, we will be creating jobs and opportunities for those areas that are taking advantage of this new economy.
The topics discussed at the CEC included growing economies within the clean energy industry, Florida’s potential for clean energy, economics proving that clean energy is cost effective now, and how local governments can lead the way in this energy shift.
Let me give you an example, I had the pleasure of meeting Pegeen Hanrahan, former Mayor of Gainesville, who spoke about the development of a bio-fuel energy plant in the Gainesville area. The bio-fuel energy plant is a great example of how public and private sectors can join together to create a new power plant that is fueled by the leftover area timber industry debris and byproduct (pine needles, saw dust, branches, etc.). Instead of the lumber companies burning the byproduct in the field without any pollution control, the byproduct is now transported to the power plant, which was developed by a private developer with the cooperation of the City of Gainesville, and ninety-five percent (95%) of the pollutants are now captured in the process of using the fuel to provide energy in the Gainesville area.
We also heard during the CEC, Ed Coppola, retired Air Force, discussing national security energy needs and how clean renewable energy will make us a safer Country. In particular, he discussed Camelina oil which is produced from a hearty weed that can be harvested in large quantities and whose seed pods provide a bio-oil source. He further explained that Camelina oil makes for a high grade jet engine fuel. He explained that the Air Force is aggressively pursing the farming of Camelina which requires no fertilizer, no additional irrigation and could provide a viable source of jet fuel, while reducing our dependence on foreign oil to fuel our Air Force and military needs.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Shelton Stone and James Sumpter from Energy Farm, a renewable energy company that is based in Seaside, Florida. Energy Farm is working with local power companies in Walton County to develop Walton County’s first solar energy plant. It is my understanding that much progress has been made in this regard, and I am hopeful that this solar energy plant will take off in the future. We also have living in Walton County John and Shirley Leeper who have a net zero home in Blue Mountain Beach which produces more energy than is used in the home. The excess energy is sold back to Chelco and put back on the grid, resulting in a credit to the Leepers. Solar energy, as explained by Dr. James Fenton, from Florida’s Solar Energy Center, has an energy return on investment (“EROI”) that makes it economically competitive with fossil fuels.
Currently, we spend sixty billion dollars a year in Florida importing coal for our power plants. We export, in essence, our money. Every time we shift our power source to solar or other renewable energy sources, we reduce our dependence on coal imports and, ultimately, create energy self-sufficiency for this State and enormous savings over time because we reduce our need for coal to power our fuel plants. Walton County, and our surrounding region have many resources that make it a viable and attractive alternative for the alternative, renewable and green energy industry that include:
- Large amounts of available land for commercial development at relatively low prices.
- We have enormous sources of timber and an existing lumber industry which provides resources for bio-fuel and bio-oil plant production.
- We have a large, willing and able workforce that is looking for new sources of jobs beyond the traditional real estate/tourism, State jobs and agriculture. Our development of an additional or fourth prong in the employment grid for our area (fifth if you count the military) will help us survive dramatic shifts in the real estate and tourism industry whether it be caused by hurricanes or man made disasters like the Deep Water Horizon Spill.
- We have attractive areas to live throughout Walton County and surrounding areas that would attract capable management and technical professional staffers to the area as part of any commercial development for renewable and green energy.
- Existing higher education in research and development system in place in Florida that has existing research groups and new energy divisions already in place. We can take advantage of University of Florida, University of Central Florida and other university programs for solar energy and other renewable energy technologies to assist any private enterprise interested in bringing business to Walton County and the surrounding region.
I believe that Walton County should further attempt to attract satellite campuses or offices from the major universities for purposes of developing renewable and green energy for Walton County and the surrounding region. In the 2010 legislative session, an ambitious Recycling Bill was passed by our state legislators. The recycling bill, among other items, requires Florida to become a seventy-five percent (75%) recyclable state by the year 2020. In addition, the same Bill allows for small county funding to assist in counties’ development of the recycle program. Walton County is an ideal recipient for the money earmarked for small counties to help Walton County further develop its existing recycling program.
Advanced developments have been made in the storing of solar energy which has lead, in part, to Germany being the greatest producer of solar energy while being one of the cloudiest countries on the planet. Over One Million solar thermal systems have been installed on German roofs and they have the power and output amounting to 7,300 megawatts and, more importantly, the manufacturing and installation of photovoltaic panels created Twenty Thousand jobs. To put this into perspective, one megawatt is enough to power a thousand homes. There is no reason that Florida, which has more available sunshine than any other State in any average year, cannot lead the nation in solar power harvesting.
We have one of the largest concentrated solar power plants being built in Florida and last Fall, we opened one of the largest collector solar panel plants in the Nation’s history. Wood pellet plants can be used to replace coal and coal fired electrical plants. In Jackson County, we have a private company that is producing wood pellets for sale in Europe for use in electrical plants. There is no reason why Walton County and the surrounding area cannot attract more industry that would be more interested in our tremendous resource of available lumber for wood pellet production. It is a renewable biomass which, and in many cases, is waste from the timber and lumber industry in our area. There are even power plants that burn land fill debris for production of energy.
We will need effective State legislation to help us move forward to prompt a more friendly environment for the attraction of such business. Legislation should include:
- Establishment of renewable portfolio standards for power companies which will require power companies to produce a percentage of their energy supply [i.e., twenty percent (20%)] from renewable energy sources by a date certain. Every State that has active renewable portfolio standards has been able to obtain the cooperation of power companies in meeting the goals set by the standards.
- The State needs to reintroduce rebates and other incentive programs for solar energy for both residential and commercial use. The State needs to establish a distinct renewable energy program for the State of Florida.
- Establish new rate structures for energy utilities in the state. Currently, the present rate structure in U.S. energy markets requires that the utilities revenue depend on the amount of energy they produce and deliver to consumers. This type of program or system makes utilities generally adverse to conservation and efficiency measures because their implementation ultimately cuts into profits by decreasing sales and therefore, revenues. “Decoupling” removes the pressures placed on utilities to sell as much energy as possible by eliminating the relationship between revenues and sales volume. Under such a change, revenues are “decoupled” from sales and allowed to adjust so that utilities receive fair compensation regardless of fluctuation in sales.
We also in Florida and in the Walton County area, could take advantage of tidal flow energy and wave hydraulics. While solar appears to be a far superior option for the State of Florida, the production of wind turbines and related wind energy components is another growing area of the new energy economy and there is no reason that we cannot provide opportunities for companies working in the wind driven electricity industry in order to bring them to our area.
Participating in the construction of a new, enduring energy economy is exhilarating. So is the quality of life it will bring. I would like to see Walton County and the surrounding region become the leader in working with the State, government and private industry to attract new energy industry to our area, create jobs and make us proud that we are a leader in helping our County and State become energy self-sufficient. The local governments, State governments and nations that become energy self-sufficient will stand poised to be economically strong and self-sustaining in the years to come.1
Very truly yours,
PLEAT & PERRY, P.A.
David B. Pleat, Senior Partner
1Information and source references available upon request